Mother’s chin was raised, uninhibited, and her lips began to quiver. It was the moment of dread. The mouth of her daughter opened, it said what it needed to say. What the mouth needed to say was not enough, but it said what it did out of need. It said what it did because Mother did not have the strength needed. She could not endure what her daughter’s mind perceived.
The mind spoke a language of unreasonable adjectives:
blank blinding dead dry searing uncaring unmotivated unnerved. The
mind saw its images in nouns:
anger bathtub blood exhaustion headaches inertia scissors sleep. The
mind heard sounds on the terms of verbs:
break cut fidget pace rock sit sleep stare take.
break the searing headaches
take the blinding anger
stare with dead exhaustion
pace in blank inertia
cut with unnerved scissors
sleep in an uncaring bathtub
rock, unmotivated and dry, covered in blood.
But the mouth, it said, “[ ].”
Mother glared at the mouth of her daughter, and Mother said that it was not the daughter’s fault. Mother, though, she cannot see the mind. The mouth of the other person does not smile, it does not let on.
[ _ _ _ , _
, . ,
, , _ . ]2
[I did not sleep]
The bed is made of concrete.
The bed is made of resilience.
The bed is made of thousands of stubborn fibers and coils, pushing against the back.
The pillow is carrion.
The pillow is bones, muscle, and organs.
The pillow reshapes to its hard lump, never smoothing.
The blanket scratches and itches.
The blanket tangles one leg, leaving the other cold.
The blanket smells of sweat, its stale humidity sticks and never repels.
Outside, the sun is rising.
Inside the stomach twists, the muscles ache, for [ _ ].
The birds, they have long since risen,
they pound and scream their unbearable songs.
Downstairs Mother still breathes in slumber.
Upstairs the lungs heave, the head is creased, for [ _ ].
Mother snores lightly under a canopy of dreams,
her glow and light eyes will mock the moans of exhaustion.
If the mind had dreams, the dreams would look like nothing. The hand would hold a bucket of nothing and carry it nowhere. Once the feet had reached nowhere, the bucket of nothing could be emptied into a void. But the void would refuse to carry nothing, for nothing cannot be held. The body could plunge into the void. But the void would refuse the body, for emptiness cannot be held. The legs would fold, the body sit, and the dream mind would contemplate the aesthetics and philosophy of absence.
If the mind had dreams, the dreams would look violent. The hand would carry a pile of knives and administer them one at a time to the arm. Once there was nowhere left on the arm to cut, the knives could be disposed of. But the eyes would not find a place to dispose of the knives, for the dream mind cannot hide secrets. The body could dispose of itself. But the eyes would not find a place to dispose of the body, for the body cannot escape its dream self. The legs would fold, the body sit, and the dream mind would contemplate the aesthetics and philosophy of mutilation.
The body lays prostate, resigned.
The mind does not know why it should force the body to move.
[ , _ , _ .
_ , .
. , _ . ]3
[I did not talk]
When pressure is applied to a substance, but the substance is not allowed free movement, said substance will most likely implode, or give up the struggle altogether.
In the instance of implosion, several things could happen:
a. The substance may lash out. It has a tendency, inherited from its long line of descended substances, to become volatile. Warning signs include: excessive pacing to and fro; neglect of relationships with other substances; inability to read the social cues of other substances; traces of bodily harm including (but not limited to) bruises or cuts; reacting to conversation with one-word substance-like answers. What an implosion will look like: substance may seep water, indicating that it is crying; substance may begin screaming and cursing; substance may break objects that are within its substance-like grasp; substance may beg for sharp objects. Once implosion has ceased, the substance will appear exhausted, listless, irresponsive.
b. The substance may attempt to flee. Because of the intense pressure placed on said substance, its least aggressive response is to run away. Warning signs include: a look of entrapment; a look of fear; inability to be sensitive to the needs of other substances; impatience with other substances; irritability; irrational and romantic notions about far-off locations. What an attempt to flee will look like: substance may begin folding into its body, preparing for flight; substance may wait until no other substance is looking to depart; said substance is not to be underestimated, and may make it quite far before its absence is noted. If stopped from fleeing, the substance will appear defeated, angry, sullen. If the substance succeeds in fleeing, the cycle of applied pressure will most likely begin again elsewhere.
If the substance gives up the struggle altogether, surrender will occur. This surrender could be either genuine, or disingenuous. In either case, surrender may include: willingness to take suggestions or criticism; willingness to seek outside opinion; malleability; lack of energy; desperation.
The first and initial sign that any of these reactions to pressure are at hand, is that [ _ ] until something snapped.
[I hurt myself]
The mind was wired carelessly. Outages were bound to occur when too much electricity surged through one socket. Whoever had wired the mind must have been drunk. There were not enough sockets for all of the power. When electricity was all channeled through one wire, it was overwhelming to the system, causing something like panic. In panic, it was necessary to shut off.
The mind was forced to devise a way to shut off.
That is why [ _ ].
The heart was made for the strong, the even-tempered. Slow, calm, breaths are what the heart was made for. It was not made to pound incessantly. It was not made to circulate as quickly as the rest of the body demanded. Whoever made the heart was too calm. When the tension rose, when the noises got too loud, when the heart siphoned more blood than it was made for, something like a heart attack occurred. In the case of impending heart attack, it was necessary to ease blood flow.
The heart was forced to ease.
That is why [ _ ].
After [ _ ] there was no screaming mind.
After [ _ ] there was no exploding heart.
After [ _ ]
everything was quiet.
Quiet was the state of mind for which normal wiring and heartbeat were intended. That was the most normal it ever became.
_ . ,
, , _ . _
, _ , . ]5
[I want to kill this psychologist]
Big blue bug eyes, looking dreamy. “You
can choose not to be depressed.”
Her fingers are soft and small. She wears an autumn-colored dress, with a light blue sweater wrap. The air conditioning is running too high.
Dumb blank airy expression.
“It’s all a matter of your mind controlling what you’re feeling.”
There is a sheet of paper she is holding. It has a chart on it.
She has not considered that her patients have tried these elementary methods. She has not considered that we are beyond charts, we are beyond mind control.
[ _ ].
The first appointment is the crying one. She believes that her patients always cry at the first appointment because it is a huge relief, putting their pain into someone else’s soft, small, chubby hands. She has not considered that they cry because they are humiliated to be seeing her; they are angry with themselves.
“Take it easy on yourself.”
Recording your thoughts every single day. Negative thoughts look something like: “I want to kill myself.”
“Every time I look in the mirror, I want to break the fucking mirror.” “I can’t feel anything.”
“There is a pit in my chest that never goes away, and I believe it is beginning to eat my insides.”
“I hate myself.”
“I do what I do, not because I want to, but because I am told to. I have no control over my life.”
“This chart is bullshit.”
Positive thoughts will not look like anything, because there are none.
Take it easy on yourself.
Big blue bug eyes look at the chart. She sighs. “This is hard work, but you are not even trying.”
Trying is getting up every morning. Trying is taking showers. Trying is attending school and doing homework. Trying is talking to friends. Trying is eating. Trying is functioning.
[ _ ]
“You have to think of things that make you happy. Like puppies. Puppies make everyone happy.”
[ , . _ _ , ,
? _ _ .
. , . _
. _ . ]6
[I soak in the bathtub for hours]
The hands float, weightless. The toes stick out of the water, feeling the difference between warm water and crisp air. Light a candle and put it in the center of the bathroom—not for ambiance, but for the smell of beeswax. Lie in the suds and wait for the moment to come. It’ll come, it always does.
At first there is peace.
As a child, hours were spent in the water. It was the safest place on earth. Dove to the bottom of the pool and crawled along the concrete, because crawling cannot be done in any other public setting. There was no sound, no clear perception, no harsh light. Even thoughts were muffled. Perhaps the most harmonious place on earth, where reality is suspended.
[ _ ]
The tub is not a pool; it is porcelain and contained, no free movement. Submerge underneath the water slowly, so as not to overflow the brim.
And then, because it will always come, the dark pit enters your gut. Wonder if the pit is always there, dormant, and just decides when it will erupt. It begins eating away at your uterus, that far down. Suspicion that the uterus was barren to begin with. It sits, it fills, it sheds, it repeats. It has been devoured by the dark pit so many times, that there is no possible way the reproductive organs are anything other than dead. The pit gnaws its way to your stomach. There is no food for it, and so it is angered. Its teeth tear into the lining and puncture the center. Suspicion that the stomach never worked the way it was supposed to. Starvation, vomiting, high tension, too much coffee. The pit has torn through the stomach too often for the organ to digest. The pit makes its way through the esophagus and works to the heart. The heart is the most painful part. The pit’s hunger increases as it devours the tender tissues and pumping blood. It sears at an impossible intensity, a fire that burns without hesitation or end. The hand strikes the side of the porcelain tub once.
The heart still aches.
The hand strikes the side of the porcelain tub twice. The
heart still aches.
The hand strikes the side of the porcelain tub thrice. The
hand hurts enough to dull the ache.
Silence. Breath. The water has grown cold.
[ _ ]
[ _ . _ . ]7
[I finally cried]
It is not the thing that you would expect, which caused the incident. The thing was small, inconsequential. So many more awful things had occurred: rape, broken heart, love, death— but it was none of these things. The thing did not occur alone or at home; it occurred in a restaurant in front of the entire family, in front of strangers. Do not remember what Sister said, will never remember it. What Sister said was fleeting, and was forgotten the moment it escaped her mouth. But she said it, and it struck—a guillotine. The body was trapped, waiting for the blade to be lowered. Then in rapid succession the chin quivered, the face twitched. The pit emerged. All at once, all at once [ _ ].
Sister’s face was altered, confused. She did not mean for her words to have weight. But it was quite clear that the words had crushed the victim. Flat, against the floor. Escaped to the restroom, everyone stared. Locked in a stall, exploding. Mother followed, faster than expected.
She spoke quietly, because of the hyperventilation.
She asked once, what had happened, and waited because of the hyperventilation. Stopping should have taken a second, but when [ _ ] it took what felt like hours to stop. Minutes, but felt like hours. She did not ask again, but waited for my reply. When it came, it did not stop the heaving, it did not ease it. But it had to be said.
“I need help.”
It is never the thing you would expect, that causes the incident. It is the moment that presents itself, it is the time of day, it is the nausea, it is the exhaustion.
[ . , _
_. . ,
_ . . ]8
[I’m at the hospital]
Lights are unnatural, they flicker. The smell is unbearable, maybe Lysol, maybe urine, maybe slimy cafeteria food. There is the incessant sound of beeps, toilets flushing, low murmurs, televisions. Lucky to not have a roommate. Lucky to be able to close the door.
They did not administer the morphine fast enough. Toes were curled up, hands were clenched. The pain, an abnormality that had been suspected years ago, had come slowly throughout the night. There was nothing to compare it to, but it was compared to a cramp, a rock, a bundle of needles; personified as blinding, it takes over time, it consumes consciousness. No, nothing to ultimately define it. But they could not administer the morphine until they identified it. They did, and when they did, there was hardly any life left to revive.
Just the lights, the smell, the sounds—agonizing and endless.
It felt like a burn, the morphine. The sweetest, sexiest, most orgasmic burn to exist. It surged through the body. It melted the limbs to butter. The toes uncurled and the hands unclenched.
Underwater. Floating. No pain. Just breath.
It is never the thing you would expect. It was the moment of rest when she looked at my arm.
Mother saw the scabs. She had never seen them before. The secret is a betrayal, but one she
cannot blame. The responsibility to her, the guilt, returns. Guilty of self-mutilation, penalty of
more therapy. Because [ ], vulnerable, drugged.
Agree, agree, that it is time.
[ . .
. _ . ]9
[the doctor who saved my life]
This is a love letter for [ ],
Thank you. I was a stupid, self-pitying mess when we met. I could tell that you were a mother, but sometimes I wonder what your relationship with your daughter is like. I feel sorry for her, because being the daughter of a shrink cannot be easy. I imagine, for some reason, that you approach her with the same tough love that you administered in our time together. You did not react to my statements, you did not put up with any of my bullshit. You let me be as insane as I wanted, and told me after I spoke that I needed to admit it to myself and forgive myself. You forced me to take the pills, despite my constant protests, my stupid fear. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be me anymore, I was afraid that I couldn’t handle being better, being happy.
You called it “Anger Management,” because I couldn’t get angry with anyone other than myself. You understood that I hated myself. Truly, deeply, hated myself. No charts. No puppies. I was not a child. I was, perhaps, you at age twenty.
I would never tell my mother this. Never. For christ’s sake, never tell my mother this. But I would have died; I would not have made it. I don’t see how one person could go through life that ill. Not an entire life. It would’ve had to end, and I would’ve ended it. Instead, we ended that thing that was killing me. Make no mistake, it was not a clean end. There would be slips and fumbles; there probably are more to come. But you taught me how to end it, anywhere, anytime, anyplace.
I sometimes wish that I could fit you in my pocket. Every time I feel that pit, and I still do sometimes, I wish I could pull you out. You would tell me to take five minutes to feel sorry for myself, and then stop. Just stop. Take a breath and stop. You would tell me that I do not need to blame, always blame, myself for something as stupid as dropping the milk. Stubbing my toe. Making a spelling error. It started at such a young age, and I’m amazed that no one noticed it. That was what life was: me hitting myself or stabbing myself for the typo that no one ever caught. When you don’t know any different, how are you supposed to know how to stop? Or even to understand that there is an alternative?
I’m thanking you because I’m sure some people cannot. I know, because you work with very high-risk clients like me, that you’ve lost one of us. Maybe you’ve lost dozens. Those people will never thank you. But I am alive and it is because of you. No one has ever loved me in that way. Everyone freaked out, cried, asked ridiculous questions. You had heard it a million times. You were familiar. You were my rock. My endless pit-dissolver. Your love made me feel safe with myself. For once, safe. Now there is no more threat. I do not scare myself. I am not my own impending doom, my impenetrable dread. I do not make my defeat.
Thank you and I love you.
[ , , , .
. . , . ]10
1 In which I attempt to speak about depression without directly speaking about it—simply because one is taught not to talk about it.
2 If I could explain to you the ways in which I am sorry for what I did to you, how I broke you, the sorry’s would never end. They would not end until you knew it, absolutely knew, how very, very sorry I am.
3 Sometimes, I would fall asleep while standing up, a fainting spell of sorts. I’d close my eyes for a moment, and then hit the ground. The hurt of the thud would wake me. Punishment, punishment for resting for just a second.
4 It is impossible to speak when you do not know how to express what you are feeling, how to make yourself sound sane. It is impossible to speak when you are terrified that speech could unleash a flood of nonsense that would be unstoppable.
5 Scientifically-ish speaking, self-mutilation is said to release the same amount of endorphins as a dose of heroin. In that sense, it does in fact make sense, that it is so difficult to quit the habit. There are thousands of reasons why any person could commit such an act, but it is not “immature,” nor is it a “cry for help.” It is a way of healing oneself, it is a way to feel something; it is what we do when we cannot express pain.
6 Some of it was my fault, I know. But how do I express to you how much I hate, loathe, detest you? I came to you as a confused child and you did nothing but make me feel more helpless. You did nothing but make me blame myself. Go back to school, or better yet quit your job. I implore you to quit your fucking job.
7 I did it because it was quiet. I spent years just trying to make my mind shut up.
8 She said it out of jest, but sometimes it is so easy to take a joke personally. For instance: One time, I had run out of my medication and it had long since left my system. Over dinner my lover told me that something was off. He knew it, so he says, because I had lost my sense of humor. Dead pan.
9 The name of the pain is ovarian cyst. The name of the pain is the biggest pain in my ass that I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life. The other unceasing pain in the ass, the elephant in the room, was even more difficult to diagnose. I waited for too long to even admit that something was wrong.
10 You should discard, burn, tear this up, immediately. Pretend you never read it. There are some things that are horrifying to write, some writings are impossible to process, and even more impossible to forget.
Photo: in parts by Gonzale